CCPA dean candidate: Christopher KolibaTweet
A coffee or tea in a one-on-one setting with each College of Community and Public Affairs faculty and staff member would be Christopher Koliba’s first initiative if named the school’s dean.
“I want to understand what makes you tick, what excites you and what causes you angst,” Koliba told audience members at the University Downtown Center during his presentation on Dec. 9. “I think we’ve all been part of institutions in which new leaders have come in, waved a wand, made their proclamations and did their thing. That’s not how I would do it.”
Koliba also praised Binghamton University’s “collaborative leaders” and a similar “common vision” in incorporating the opinions of many people to develop objectives: The Road Map to Premier.
“The process that was used to engender group participation is compelling,” he said. “It is exciting to see.”
Koliba, a full professor in the Community Development and Applied Economics Department at the University of Vermont and director of the university’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program, was the third CCPA dean candidate to make a public presentation. He spoke in front of audience of about 50 on the topic “Organized for Collective Impact: CCPA’s Position as an Academic Innovator and Community Partner.”
Visiting campus as a dean candidate is “a homecoming of sorts,” said Koliba, who received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Syracuse University, and had interacted with Binghamton University public administration faculty members in his current position.
“This is a familiar place to me,” he said. “The economic development and revitalization of downtown – which CCPA has been a vital part of – is an exciting growth.”
Koliba also emphasized that like CCPA, he knows what it is like to suffer through a flood.
“My mother was flooded by Irene in Vermont,” he said. “My uncle lives on the Jersey Shore and had five feet of salt water in his house. I helped muck out his house, as well. I know the social and psychological effects of floods. I know the vulnerabilities that the event brings.”
Koliba said that his junior and senior years at Syracuse led him to civic engagement work, as he assisted at a Boys and Girls Club in North Syracuse.
“It was a formative experience for me,” he said. “I was in business school and realized through this experience that I had a public service ethos. It was going to be hard for me to go into investment banking.”
As a father of three, Koliba has served as a school board member, planning commission member and coach.
“Civic life is something that I live and breathe,” he said.
In his presentation, Koliba stressed the areas of social justice, diversity, research and graduate studies. Social justice is “something I am deeply committed to,” he said, emphasizing economic justice.
“We have degrees here that address the symptoms or the results of poverty,” he said. “My question for us as a community is: What can we do to address the causes of poverty through economic development, for example?”
CCPA and the community can take the lead in helping improve access to jobs, quality healthcare, good food, affordable housing and power, Koliba said.
In diversity, Koliba referred to retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 affirmative action admissions policy case from the University of Michigan Law School. O’Connor said that heterogeneity in the classroom brings value to the learning experience.
“The idea that diversity enhances a learning experience is tried and true,” said Koliba, who added that heterogeneity also helps and improves the problem-solving process. “The highest court in the land has endorsed that ideal.”
Koliba called research a “collaborative and transdisciplinary enterprise” and said faculty members need incentives, infrastructure and areas of innovation to succeed.
Binghamton University already has those areas of innovation in place, he said: Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAEs), such as health sciences, material and visual worlds, smart energy, sustainable communities, and citizenship, rights and cultural belonging.
“You have transdiciplinary areas, all of which I think CCPA can play a critical role in,” he said. “I see the college involved in all of them.”
Linking research with graduate studies, Koliba said: “The strength of the research enterprise of CCPA lies in the strength of the graduate program.” He praised the college’s new doctoral program in community and public affairs and added that he sees opportunity to expand some master’s programs.
Koliba also stressed the importance of CCPA expanding into other communities, particularly New York City.
“In New York City, I think there is a tremendous opportunity to develop professional degrees or extend degrees,” he said. “We need to entertain it. School of Management is doing it. Watson is doing it. CCPA should be doing it. There is a great amount that we can learn from this exchange.”
Overall, Koliba said he was impressed with the trajectory of Binghamton University and the people he met.
“This is a place I want to be,” he said. “I’m comfortable in a research university of this scale and size.”